Toa Fraser’s beautifully photographed film captures the Royal New Zealand Ballet’s staging of the classic — about a deceptive nobleman’s punishment at the hands of vengeful spirits — while suggesting a fictionalized, parallel love story offstage between the two lead dancers.
When Giselle had its inaugural performance in Paris in 1841, no one could have known that it would become one of the most famous and beloved ballets of all time. Director Toa Fraser (whose Dean Spanley played the Festival in 2008) has not only captured a remarkable new production, but has added allusions to a fictional parallel offstage love story between the two principal dancers in such a way that both tales — the real and the imagined — are enhanced.
The core of the film is a new staging of the classic by the Royal New Zealand Ballet, which is celebrating its sixtieth anniversary this year. In the ballet, a peasant girl, Giselle (Gillian Murphy), falls in love with Albrecht (Qi Huan), a nobleman who has concealed his true identity. When Giselle discovers that Albrecht has deceived her — and is engaged to someone else — she dies of a broken heart. For his deception, Albrecht is thrown into the hands of the Wilis, spirits of women jilted by their lovers. Myrtha, Queen of the Wilis (Abigail Boyle), seeks revenge on Albrecht, but a resurrected Giselle intervenes.
Offstage, Fraser's nuanced, fleeting
images propose the ways that a real-life
love story between the two lead dancers
might inform their work in the ballet, and
vice versa. The photography capturing the
dance is superb and the performances of
Murphy, Huan, and Boyle are powerful and
captivating. This hands-on engagement
with the classic asks the viewer to embrace
anew the rigour and delicacy of ballet itself.